China experimenting with Web censorship methods

China experimenting with Web censorship methods

Summary: GreatFire.org, which monitors blocked sites, says keyword search results for 1989 Tiananmen Square protests have been amended or thoroughly filtered, instead of showing the usual message stating sites cannot be displayed.

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GreatFire.org suggests Chinese authorities are conducting tests to improve their control systems.

A group that monitors blocked Web sites in China says the Chinese government is experimenting with new subtle methods to censor Internet search results ahead of the 24th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

According to the site on Friday, GreatFire.org noted that keyword search related to the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, 1989 on Sina, previously displayed an explicit message stating: "According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results for [the blocked keyword] cannot be displayed."

However, in the lead up to the 24th anniversary this year, certain searches such as those containing keywords "June 4 incident" now have been intermittently returning a series of "carefully selected results", GreatFire.org said.

For instance, although troops had killed hundreds of protestors during the pro-democracy protests in Beijing, searches for "Tiananmen incident" would return links to an unrelated incident which occurred on the square from 1976, the group said. It added that some of these links, when selected, would not redirect to actual Web sites and instead would lead to dead links.

GreatFire.org described this as an example of "censorship at its worst", since users were led to believe the keyword they were searching was not a sensitive topic.

Since the changes were not applied consistently, the group concluded Chinese authorities were conducting tests to improve their control systems.

China's special administrative region, Taiwan, last month also planned to amend the country's Copyright Act to ensure local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) blocked illegal content posted on foreign Web sites. However, the Taiwanese government clarified last Thursday it would not adopt China's censorship policy, and would only target international sites notorious for supporting file-sharing and other activities that violated digital content rights, according to a separate report on Focus Taiwan News Channel.

The government in another Asian nation, Singapore, last week also outlined a new regulation requiring news sites with significant reader reach and which report regularly on local news to now apply for individual licenses. The Singapore government said this move would ensure greater consistency between online and traditional news platforms.

Topics: Censorship, Government Asia, China

Ellyne Phneah

About Ellyne Phneah

Elly grew up on the adrenaline of crime fiction and it spurred her interest in cybercrime, privacy and the terror on the dark side of IT. At ZDNet Asia, she has made it her mission to warn readers of upcoming security threats, while also covering other tech issues.

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